Editor’s Note: In this Q&A community organizer, Jocelyn Birkes, and community member, Clove V., discuss housing accessibility and homelessness. Clove shares the insights they gained through their experience with homelessness. Clove offers their perspective on the part prevention plays in the goal to reduce homelessness. They note that education is a useful tool in the effort to destigmatize and promote access to community resources.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Clove. I’m a member of the Brantford community and I’m still finding my way. I’m looking forward to going back to university at Laurier and getting further involved in the community.
What do you see happening in regards to housing currently?
I see the market getting a lot scarier. I find it very stressful to look on Facebook and Kijiji lately. I find that with housing almost everyone I know is treading water and they have been treading water for a long time.
I don’t see housing getting better. I don’t see it getting more accessible. I do see emergency shelters and housing supports getting better but housing itself is definitely not very accessible. I’ve seen a single bedroom for two people go for $500 per month, per person. That means single rooms are listed for $1,000. In 2019 and earlier when I was renting a room the standard was $500 per month, per room. You could even find a room for $400-$450, I used to pay for $450 here at University.
I started looking on Facebook and Kijiji recently and I was shocked to see that Brantford’s market is looking the same as Hamilton, Brampton and even Toronto. I’ve seen single rooms in Toronto, go for $500 a whole room for one tenant. We have a lot of students in Brantford so they’re pushing people to share rooms because they can.
Students are on a fixed income and there’s already a lot of struggle. When I was on OSAP back in 2020, in my first year, it was not very pleasant. You can’t afford $500 a month in rent on OSAP and now the standard price of rent has increased.
What have you heard or seen from the people around you in regards to housing?
I’ve seen a lot of people get trapped in units. I have one friend who had been in the same unit and the same job since before he graduated high school. He’s still doing the same job and renting in the same place because the place is just expensive enough that he can’t afford to move out. I find many people are one incident away from being in a bad situation similar to me. Just making the bills is something almost everybody is anxious about currently.
[I]f housing is a human right, it shouldn’t be for profit.
Given all that, what would you rather see happening?
I think the for-profit housing incentive has corrupted the idea that housing could ever be a human right if it’s a for-profit industry. A lack of control on landlords and the lack of enforcement and knowledge that renters have about their rights when in a relationship with a landlord is very problematic. There aren’t many rules restricting what landlords can charge in relation to the size of the property.
There’s very little incentive to make landlords want to be part of supportive housing programs. I think I’ve heard a lot about that from some of the people that work at Cornerstone. It’s very challenging to get landlords to want to work with supportive housing and geared to income, they’re not often interested in those programs. I’ve heard that they’re not as profitable. It stems from the issue that if housing is a human right, it shouldn’t be for profit.
There aren’t proper advocates in the community to advocate for renters. A big topic that needs more attention with homelessness is prevention and a big part of prevention is education about renters’ rights. At the moment, if you want help, you have to call a 24/7 government 800 number. It makes it very difficult. It’s a very similar issue with employers when there is an unfair relationship. There is an unbalanced dynamic between employee and employer, renter and landlord. And the boards that mediate these relationships are not very accessible.
What would it take to move in the direction of accessibility?
We’ve made steps towards it with our hybrid coordinated access. Through the Brantford Housing Resource Centre (HRC) where you access one phone number and the HRC is able to connect you with any shelter resource and other resources in the community. I think that model is really good.
The Brantford Downtown Outreach Team (BDOT) team has a great model and if that was applied to other neighbourhoods within Brantford, it could act as more of a preventative measure. The BDOT team mostly focuses on people who are already homeless. If their outreach model was applied to higher income neighbourhoods, it could be used as a prevention measure and educate people about geared to income, supportive housing, and other initiatives. We should include outreach for people who aren’t yet homeless. We have outreach for people who are homeless but I think the preventative piece could use more attention.
It’s important to encourage people to go to the food bank and to destigmatize those types of resources, because if I was using those resources I may not have fallen down the rabbit hole. If I was going to the food bank I might have had more money for my rent. Programs like food banks should be advertised to people as a way to prevent homelessness rather than as a support when you’re already homeless.
It’s the same thing with food pantries, for example, you might think, “I don’t want to take from it because I’m not homeless.” But if you need it, it could be preventative.
What would you like to see in community as next steps?
I would like to see the city website updated. I have been investigating the city website a lot lately, preparing for my application with the city advisory board. I found that the statistics aren’t very accessible. They’re only accessible through PDF and a lot of cities, like Hamilton, have a dashboard with real time information about how many people are in the shelters. I think the City of Brantford, in order to respect and stand in solidarity with homeless people, should put the numbers on the City of Brantford website under the homeless section. We should be addressing and including every person.
It’s very important to me that the city reference website is updated with accurate information as an acknowledgement of the community members who are struggling.
It wouldn’t be very difficult. It would involve calling the shelters and gathering that data and then posting it on the Brantford website. I think that could be very important. As of now there are not proper numbers. There is the point in time (PIT) report for 2021. But the PIT report was not thorough because of the pandemic so the information is incomplete. There’s no information about this year’s PIT report, which is very confusing, because it’s supposed to be an annual survey of homeless people.
It’s very important to me that the city reference website is updated with accurate information as an acknowledgement of the community members who are struggling. I find it crazy that it’s not already on the website, because so many other cities have that. I understand it would be work and there would have to be money put into this program to do this research, but then we could track micro trends instead of an annual macro trend which isn’t as useful for data analysis.
What’s the best thing that could happen if those steps were taken?
We would be one step closer to having a Built For Zero city — a city that can accommodate all of its homeless people and have zero people on the streets. Built For Zero Canada is a government program that I recently learned about and it involves using data, collected via by name lists, to track homeless people so we can actually create goals to lower that number. It would allow us to track data to test the effectiveness of certain programs. If we gathered better statistics we would be able to better measure our progress towards Built For Zero and have a city with zero people living on the streets.
Is there anything else you would like to add that you feel we haven’t covered?
I wanted to add there is disproportionate homelessness among BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and LGBTQ+. Systemic injustice against minorities exists in all facets of housing and impedes the human right to self-determination. Certain groups need more attention than others; I think we not only need to acknowledge this, we need to let this information guide how we create programs in the future.
Lead photo cutline: A rainbow in downtown Brantford captured by Clove V.
As part of the conversation, Clove V. wished to acknowledge the Attawandaron (Neutral), Anishnawbe, and Haudenosaunee Peoples whose homeland is along this great and grand river. Clove stands in solidarity with local Land defenders, Six Nations, and advocates for the Arrowdale Golf Course- A property that had been officially sold to fund affordable housing. They thank them for all their hard work and perseverance over the past years.
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